Stress, antibiotics, junk food... Our microbiota can be destabilised by a multitude of factors. But how quickly can we expect to restore balance to our gut flora?
As you know, the intestinal flora (or gut microbiota) is an ecosystem of living microorganisms – bacteria, yeasts, as well as viruses and fungi – which sits in the walls of the small intestine and colon. This is by far the most populated area of the body, playing host to between 1012 and 1014 guests on average (1)!
A healthy gut flora is considered to be one which maintains the right balance between ‘friendly’ strains beneficial to health, and potentially pathogenic strains (2). This state of symbiosis is usually characterised by:
Conversely, when ‘unfriendly’ bacteria get the upper hand over ‘friendly’ ones, the gut flora becomes unbalanced, a state referred to as dysbiosis (3). This can be triggered by an unbalanced diet, increased stress, exposure to pollutants (smoking, alcohol, drugs ...), immune deficiency or repeated use of antibiotics (4).
The clearest indications of intestinal dysbiosis are:
The good news is you can restore balance to your microbiota by repopulating the intestinal tract with beneficial strains, obtained directly from the diet or via dietary supplements.
In terms of the timescale involved, it clearly depends on individual factors : initial microbiota composition (unique to each individual), previous medical treatments, lifestyle changes implemented ... (10)
However, it’s fair to say that by modifying your diet and focusing on appropriate strains, you can expect your microbiota to be fully restored within 1-3 months on average (11-12). That doesn’t mean, however, that you can forget about looking after your microbiota on a day-to-day basis, just as you wouldn’t stop tending your garden!
If you’re looking to regenerate your microbiota, you need to ban ultra-processed foods in general – the preservatives, sweeteners and other additives they contain are likely to have a disruptive effect (13).
Be sure too, to reduce your intake of refined sugar and saturated and trans fats (deli meats, red meat, fried foods, pastries ...) (14-15).
Last but not least, cut back on your alcohol consumption: a number of studies suggest that alcohol-induced changes to the microbiota may increase intestinal hyperpermeability and promote the development of liver problems (16).
In contrast, there are two categories of food which are particularly recommended for restoring balance to the gut microbiota:
In helping to maintain a balanced gut microbiota, probiotics provide valuable support for depleted or insufficiently-diverse gut flora (19). Their real value is in delivering high concentrations of live bacteria, the strains of which are carefully selected to ensure they respond effectively to the problem targeted.
So for optimal results, it’s important not only to isolate the particular strain required, but to know how long you need to take it in order to gain maximum benefit.
Broadly speaking, the typical duration of a course of probiotic supplements is 1-3 months, repeatable if necessary – making sure you leave a gap between each period of supplementation to allow the gut to work independently (20-21). Another option is to alternate different strains to restore microbiotic biodiversity and prevent your gut flora from becoming ‘lazy’.
So you’d like to start supplementing with probiotics ? Here are some tips to help you make the right choice:
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